Talking Politics with New Danes

When I first arrived in Denmark, the first question from strangers was “What do you think of Denmark?”

In the first few months, I would answer “Um. It’s good? I like it?” and the Dane would be pleased.

During culture shock, I would answer “It has its ups and downs?” and the Dane would agree, as every other country in the world also does.

I’m rarely asked what I think now. But occasionally the conversation will get onto my impressions and thoughts on Danish culture. If I think the Dane can handle it, I talk about the off putting levels of racism. (If I think they can’t I do a “Danes negotiate crowds like THIS, foreigners negotiated crowds like THAT”)

To which the new Danish acquaintance always says

“Oh, the DF. They’re a fringe element. No one votes for them. Just the old and the peasants.”

(Just between 12 and 27% of the voters, ok)

But that’s not my point. The DF are the DF, every country needs a whack job party to say stupid things and get wildly popular amongst the mouth breathers. It wouldn’t be democracy without them.

My point is, plenty of mainstream politicians say things that are the stuff of fringe whack job parties back home. And not very much happens. Maybe some people get uncomfortable and some other people shoot back with a counterpoint but no one really confronts “Hey, maybe racism has got totally out of hand in this country…” (before anyone points out that ‘Islam isn’t a race’, she makes it clear she means people from Pakistan and Somalia and uses the dogwhistle phrase ‘non-western’. So this is very much a cultural racism situation.)

Inger Støjberg published, in time for Eid celebrations, and this is not a lie, the headline

 

Happy Eid to All Muslims

I’m not going to translate the whole thing, I’ve gone down that road before with Inge and she flaps her gums too much, she’s obviously trolling and I CANNOT TAKE IT ANYMORE. Here are some choice cuts.

“For me, the end of Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to do a status check of the challenges we as Danes face when it comes to the integration of the next biggest religious community in Denmark.”

“In short, it is primarily Muslim immigrants who do not like democracy and freedom. In some environments, they directly work against it.”

“I am very conscious of the whines from the politically correct, left wing and minority of Muslims who are good at debating. They will say that I am generalising and am trying to polarise the debate to make a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality. My viewpoint is the opposite, it is so rare that you hear Christians (or atheists for that matter), say that freedom of expression and democracy are the wrong foundation to build society on.”

[So rare. You never get nutjob churches wanting ban books, alternative sexual practices or other religions. There has never been an example of a country having democracy suspended by non-muslims. NEVER IN THE HISTORY OF ANYTHING IT IS SO RARE. Not even in recent history like in Greece or Crimea or anything like that. It is just Muslims who hate democracy.]

“It’s why I think that if you make things really simple, all too many Muslims in Denmark practice a medieval interpretation of the Koran and it stops them from taking part in the ordinary Danish day-to-day life.”

“It’s not enough just to make an economic contribution [to the country]. If you don’t have Danish colleagues, you won’t have the same understanding of Danish values and traditions.”

[Although I’m pretty sure she’s complaining about pizza shops not international schools or companies here]

[Then she says that there’s a school in Aarhus where ‘no’ Danish children go. When what she actually means is that a lot of Danish children go there and they have family backgrounds in other countries.]

“It is not necessary to give the same demands to everyone who wants to migrate to Denmark. The main point is that there is a big difference in the abilities and will to integrate between a Christian American or Swede and a Muslim Somalian or Pakistani who come here.”

“That’s why I think that in the future, in a larger degree we ought to make it easier for those who traditionally can integrate while we should make it harder to those who do not have the ability nor will. ”

“If I, as a Muslim, was so lucky to come to Denmark through family reunification, I would love democracy and freedom of expression. I would practice my faith, conscious that I have the right too do so and the knowledge that I am protected to do so. I would be so grateful for the free society that Denmark is.”

There’s more on this (and the reactions to it) on thelocal.dk and a bit about it on cphpost.dk

Of course, she’s just farting in the wind. It’s not legal to discriminate on the basis of religious background. So if Venstre have different rules for ‘Muslims’, it will have to be on a countrywide basis. So, everyone from Indonesia or Nigeria would have the harder requirements. And I’m not even sure if they’re able to say integration requirements are easier if you come from a particular country. Probably not, or they would have done it already.

They do have the ability to say that schools need to have a majority of ‘Danish’ children, I’ve seen this shit in action. But instead of forcing ‘Danish’ children to attend the local ghetto school, they tend to close the ghetto school and bus the ‘non-Danish’ children to “spread them out”. So, that’s a worry.

Anyway. Venstre are a fringe nutjob party now but with 17-27% of the vote.

Customer Service

So, here’s what happened.

I got a letter in the post saying that our mortgage provider’s computer had gone down and we needed to send a payment direct to a certain account. I was a little suspicious but the letter had the right name and when I typed the number into my bank, the right provider name auto-completed.

Then I got another letter in the post asking for my mortgage payment. I was composing an email to check that I had sent the money to the right account when I noticed that the telephone helpline numbers were different on the two letters. The customer support email was different. The CVR number was different. And I dropped a bollock.

I google’d the support email and the first link was “FALSE EMAILS, DO NOT RESPOND TO THEM” and I did not look at the link but the bottom dropped out of my stomach.

So, I scanned in the suspicious letter and emailed customer support at the bank. I told them the situation and asked what I should do.

They emailed back straight away: contact your bank. GOOD LUCK. Seriously. “Good luck”

I contacted my bank, told them the situation, attached the suspect letter.

They emailed back straight away: nothing we can do. Contact the police.

I contacted the police. Over email because I hate telephones and I could attach the letter.

Then I started to think about how sophisticated the scam was: right name, right company name, they knew we were customers of this bank, they specifically only ask for one month’s money. They got the amount almost exactly right.

So, I googled the support email thing again to take a look at the other scams, to see if they were as sophisticated… and realised that the ‘fake’ email was not fake.

This was about fifteen minutes into the crisis and the feelings of pathetic-ness and horror were starting to give way into feelings of disbelief. So. I emailed customer support again.

“Are you SURE this is a scam. Did I just report my mortgage to the police??”

And this is the response, in full, without further comment.

Hello again 

Im sorry i didnt’  see the lette the 1. time 

It’s not a fake letter – there has been an error with the payment service as home loan is not automatically paid by direct debit – this is only in June and July that itmust be paid manually 

I regret that I was not awake for the first time  

If you have further questions, I recommend you to contact us on xx xx xx which is open every day from 9 -21″

 

 

Protection from Corruption

Everyone, including experts, says that there is no corruption in Denmark. This is bollocks. It might not be the same sort of corruption you might find in the second world or in the places you’d expect in the third world or as ostentatiously sleazy as in the first world. But there is corruption in Denmark. There are shady deals, opaque dodgy decisions and cheating. Nepotism, dishonesty and outright thievery.

My ongoing saga is with the company that bought my old flat when it went on foreclosure auction. They are doing some seedy shit to avoid paying the deposit back. In order to combat them, I have needed to call on several friends.

1) to help me draft an email in decent Danish. Outcome: the company said we had longer than three days to find another painter and dropped the ridiculous insistence of being paid for painting two months before we have to stop paying rent.

2) to ring them and simply ask “is it legal to say they cannot have the keys back?” Outcome: we got the keys back

3) to introduce me to someone who knows a painter Outcome: I have a much more reasonable painting quote

None of this I could have done by myself. It’s great there are fantastic people who will defend their friends (and friends of friends) from robbery and unfairness.

But wouldn’t it be better if the Danish system prevented this shit automatically? Wouldn’t it be better if everyone was protected and not just those lucky enough to have a great network?

Plus, when this is over, I can’t ‘punish’ the company for their behaviour or warn others. The Danish system only kicks in when you have a dispute you can’t solve yourself. Not when a company makes up fake rules or puts undue pressure on you or tries to sting you for a lot of money.

These are the changes I would make to the Danish rental market.

No demand in rental contracts for the tenant to pay for redecorating at the end of the lease. Instead, reasonable wear and tear is to be expected. Of course if the walls are stained or damaged: redecorating might be in order.

The rental governing body can be contacted in cases of unreasonable or illegal behaviour. Not just a dispute.

All landlords need to be signed up to a code of conduct with real consequences if not adhered to.

There needs to be a clear guide for what to do in the case of problems. Most people I spoke to had some ideas about things to try but were also fatalistic about it. “It’s just a cost of moving out” This goes for the media as well!

Deposits of only one months rent and prepaid rent of max one month.

Maybe it wouldn’t be perfect but the only way is up.

I would have done it for anyone

Northside is a great festival, everyone. It’s big enough to attract bands that I have wanted to see live for ages and it’s small enough that there is not an excessive waiting time for most things (and consequently people are friendlier).

Roskilde is friendly-ish but tempers flare from time to time.

Also, there is no camping at Northside, so people have less opportunity to get tanked up at their tent and then roll into the festival ground half cut. If you want to get drunk at Northside, it’s pretty much at regular festival prices.

Here’s a little compare/contrast for you. On the Saturday, I sat with a friend from work at a picnic table. I was not that bothered about any of the bands on Saturday, so was happy just to hear their sets from afar. I spoke to loads of people that day. Some of them were friends of friends, some of them were randoms. I spoke in mostly English but did have a couple of Danish conversations (with drunks) too. It was pretty great.

On Sunday, before the bands I wanted to see came on, I explored the indie area and watched some poets on the little stage. I also checked out an area for encouraging people to have conversations. There were little signs up about ‘don’t use mobiles’, there were games and a ball pit. There were also some conversation starters. As friendly and fun as that area was, it was pretty much just being used by children. The adults that accompanied them, they were sitting staring into space, not talking to anyone. I was only there for a short time so maybe it was a hotbed of conversation and contact between strangers at other times.

I felt sad for Danish people at that point. Their cultural expectation is that it is very rude to talk to anyone. That’s pretty much the same in the UK, unless more rudeness is committed by NOT talking. So, in the UK, it is possible to start conversations with randoms if you are, for example, in a special area dedicated to starting conversations with randoms. Or if you need to communicate or negotiate something vital (for example: it’s super rude not to ask “Can I pull this blind down/open this window/move this bag/get past you?” and a tiny bit rude not to say “Those doors don’t open at this stop, you need to walk down the carriage.”), whereas in Denmark, it appears to be rude to say anything in any of these scenarios.

This means they only get to speak to people they know and, I guess, friends of friends. Except Danes aren’t that good at blending friendship groups. I’ve heard of parties where the row club friends sit in the kitchen and the colleague friends sit in the living room and both groups try to pretend the other does not exist. Not to mention, these sort of parties with separate friendship groups are rare. No wonder they have no time in their calendar to meet new people, if they need a separate event for each of their sets of buddies.

Not that groups of Danes aren’t trying to get this to change. After all, I got to make these observations at a place set up by Danish people trying to get Danish people to talk to each other. There is definitely a movement to get these conversations going. They are needed, not just on a purely social level, but also to spark new ideas. Cities accelerate development and  innovation partly because people bump into each other and exchange their thoughts.

Anyway. On the way back from the festival ground, there are no buses past 11pm or something, so you have to walk a couple of kilometres to the next bus stop. It’s not as if the city council of Aarhus could lay on extra buses on that weekend, jesus. While I was walking to the bus stop, I noticed a man who was in a bad way.

He was weaving left to right in a drunk manner. Every time he veered left, he ended up in the bike lane. Bikes were coming past regularly and at a fair old whack. All he needed to do was badly time a left swerve with a bike and it would be goodnight Vienna.

So. I ran to catch him up and stood on his left. I marked him like it was netball, he slowed down: I slowed down. He sped up: he sped up. Then the inevitable happened and he swerved hard into me. I caught him and smiled. I said

“You alright?”

and he said

“No.”

I said

“Aww. Is there anything I can do to help?”

And he looked at me and he started muttering about how great this was and he hugged me. So we walked along, his arm around my shoulders. He asked me if I was Italian. He said that this would never happen. Never ever happen. This is so great.

I asked him if he needed to catch a bus or anything and he didn’t understand me. I tried in Danish. Even less understanding. He took my hand and said “I don’t understand you. Sorry. I’m Danish. But I understand THIS.” and squeezed my hand.

He asked me where I lived and I asked him where he lived. He pointed across the junction

“Just over there.”

Then he smiled and said

“Sorry but I have to run.” and he let go of my hand and ran across the junction. I yelled

“OK, well be careful!”

I think Danish culture is ready for people being more friendly and kind to each other. I know I saw a lot of people helping walking wounded after the many inevitable drunk-on-a-bike accidents all along that ring road. But it really needs more people being up for making contact and saying “You alright?” Prevention is always better than a cure.